LEXINGTON, Ohio – Myles Rowe took a huge stride toward his goal of winning this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship with a pair of wins from this weekend’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio triple-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Rowe, from New York, N.Y., swept the opening two races for Pabst Racing, although Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), from Hartsdale, N.Y., kept himself in contention with a flag-to-flag victory in the final race of the tripleheader.
Rowe and d’Orlando were followed home in this morning’s first race, the second of the weekend, by Rowe’s teammate Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz. In the final race of the weekend this afternoon, Denmark went one better to finish second ahead of Rowe.
A busy day for the Road to Indy contenders began at 10:45 a.m. EDT with the first of two USF2000 races, and d’Orlando snagging another Cooper Tires Pole Award – his fourth of the season – by virtue of posting the second fastest lap during the lone qualifying session on Friday morning.
Yesterday’s winner, Rowe, lined up on the outside of the front row, and once again it was the two prime title protagonists who battled head to head in the early stages. D’Orlando remained in front through a brief full-course caution after three laps, but at the restart Rowe made a bold move to the outside of Turn Five which gave him the inside line – and the race lead – headed downhill into Turn Six. Rowe’s close-following teammate, Denmark, also was able to take advantage of d’Orlando’s slight loss of momentum to sneak up into second.
D’Orlando fought back a couple of laps later, making his own outside-line pass, this time at Turn Four, to resume in second. By this stage Rowe was already well out front, completing the eighth out of 20 laps with an advantage of 1.8 seconds. Undeterred, d’Orlando put his head down and gradually whittled away at the deficit until, with three laps remaining, he was back on terms. Unfortunately for d’Orlando, the yellow flags then waved again following a single-car incident in Turn Nine, which meant the race would finish under caution.
Denmark came out on top of a tight battle for third with 14-year-old Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), from Gulfport, Fla., while fellow rookie Nicky Hays, from Huntington Beach, Calif., produced his best drive of the season by taking fifth ahead of Cape Motorsports teammate Jagger Jones, from Scottsdale, Ariz. Hays’ drive also earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having started 13th on the grid.
D’Orlando was again on pole for the three-race finale with the first four rows aligned identical to Race 2. This time, however, D’Orlando was able to hold back the advances of Rowe and remained fully in command throughout the 20-lap race, eventually crossing the line with a 3.3-second advantage.
Rowe maintained a steady pace around 1.5 seconds in arrears of d’Orlando with Denmark not far behind in third. The three leaders began to gap themselves from the field by Lap 8. It was on Lap 18, however, that Rowe made a rare mistake with an slight off-on in Turn One allowing Denmark to cement second-place and his third podium of the weekend.
Lochie Hughes of Queensland, Australia, rebounded from losing a podium finish yesterday due to a technical infraction, to finish fourth for Jay Howard Driver Development followed by Dylan Christie, who also was on the rebound from an incident in Race 2, to round out the top five for DEForce Racing.
Evagoras Papasavvas (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Loveland, Ohio, took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award after making up five positions from 20th on the starting grid.
Augie Pabst and the Cape brothers, Dominic and Nicholas, each claimed a PFC Award today as the winning car owners, although two wins and four additional podium finishes this weekend has allowed Pabst Racing to stretch its lead in the Team Championship to 47 points, 353-306.
Only two race weekends and five races remain until the outcome of this year’s USF2000 title will be decided. At stake is a scholarship valued at almost $407,000 to graduate onto the next step on the Road to Indy ladder, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2023. Next up in two weeks’ time will be an eagerly awaited return to the Toronto Indy in Ontario, Canada, for a pair of races July 16/17.
Provisional championship points after 13 of 18 races:
1. Myles Rowe, 296
2. Michael d’Orlando, 284
3. Jace Denmark, 264
4. Jagger Jones, 228
5. Billy Frazer, 215
6. Bijoy Garg, 188
7. Thomas Nepveu, 186
8. Christian Weir, 154
9. Nicky Hays, 146
10. Spike Kohlbecker, 146
Myles Rowe (#22 Penske Entertainment-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-22): “It was another good one. We had an okay start but we were gapped a little bit by Michael after I got a little loose in Turn One. A restart came out which kind of saved the day for us because I had a really good start on that one. I was right behind on Michael’s gearbox and was able to pull out and make a couple of maneuvers to pull out in front of him and pull out a gap. He had the most speed in this race for sure. We might have entered into a battle the last couple of laps, I am not sure, but (it was) a blessing from God that the yellow came out. We came home with the race win when the race finished under yellow but any win is a good win. Thank you to Pabst Racing, Penske Entertainment, Sparco, Bell and my parents for getting me here.”
Michael d’Orlando (#4 Focused Project Management/DB Collaborative-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-22): “Race 2 was a wild one for sure. For the two to three laps that there was green flag racing, I was able to pull a gap – a pretty solid one for three laps. And then everything changed when the yellow flag came out. We slowed down and got the pack all together again and for the first restart, I had an okay jump but just couldn’t hold Myles off. His teammate Jace was behind him as well so holding off two Pabst drivers was difficult and they both ended up getting by. I was able to pass Jace and lap by lap was just inching away at Myles’ gap on me. I was a tenth or two quicker each lap and towards the end I thought I may be able to fight him and it’s my luck that the yellow flag came out. Honestly, congratulations to Myles on a good run. Thanks to Cape Motorsports for a great car and all of my sponsors.”
Jace Denmark (#23 Radford Racing School Metal Works-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-22): “The track was a lot different today compared to yesterday. It was a lot faster and it will look more different for the last race today after it heats up. It was a tough race racing with d’Orlando. He has a lot of experience here and everywhere so racing with him is definitely a learning experience. I was just trying to race him as hard as possible and got by him on maybe the fourth lap and he got me back two or three laps later. It was a good battle, but I came out third in the end.”
Michael d’Orlando (#4 Focused Project Management/DB Collaborative-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-22): “What a race. What a weekend, really. It was obviously a bit of a roller-coaster and I feel like they all are. Race Three was definitely what we needed to end this weekend. Obviously, I was a little down on points and on myself and this is definitely going to give me momentum heading into Toronto. This is exactly what we need and I am super proud. Thank you Cape Motorsports, Rising Star Racing and DB Collaborative for making this possible. All of you guys have been fantastic to me.”
Jace Denmark (#23 Radford Racing School Metal Works-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-22): “It was kind of a monotonous race just trying to do the best laps I could to keep up with Myles and the leader, Michael. At the end unfortunately Myles made a mistake but fortunately for me, I got a position out of it. It was just a matter of staying strong until the end and trying to find the balance of the car and work for good laps. That was the name of the game in that race.”
Myles Rowe (#22 Penske Entertainment-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-22): “The race was alright. Michael had a little bit more pace than us so it was just about following in line. In the end I made an unforced error and lost second. We had a great weekend overall and you can’t overlook that, and we got some really good points out of it.”